Product Innovation Trends

Rethinking the Agile Manifesto: Customer Collaboration and Contract Negotiation

This is the eighth post in a series examining the changes that have occurred since the Agile Manifesto was published and the implications they have on how we might consider the Manifesto today. Find the first post here.

At the time of the writing of the Manifesto in 2001, the expectation in the software world was that customers and developers defined budgets and timelines of what was expected to be delivered and when. The developer was then obligated to deliver to specifications and on time. This arrangement left little room for change to overcome the challenges or leverage the opportunities that inevitably arise during the development process. Contracts may have kept some projects on track but they also stifled the flexibility to add features or improvements that may have served the customer well. The Manifesto’s solution was to have the customer onsite in lieu of making contracts. This was a noble idea, but not practical for all organizations or industries.

The reality is that in some companies and industries, contracts are still necessary. Sometimes contracts are part of the vendor selection process or related to regulatory requirements. Additionally, having the customer onsite often results in the unintended creation of ‘proxy’ customers, who are supposed to convey the concerns and interest of the customer. Instead, proxy customers created a point of failure. Relying on one individual to understand and comprehend what customers need and want can result in communication breakdown.

In many organizations, the role of business analyst helps to bridge the business and the technical sides, to translate the customer’s problem. They can help define what the business problem actually is which might not be in the same words a customer would use to explain needs.

Today when we say ‘collaboration’ it means something different than it used to. Modern collaboration tools make it easy to convene, discuss and agree to decisions with individuals around the globe. Collaborative processes are now a reality for dispersed teams. We can be in constant communication with our customers.

While collaboration has not eliminated the need for contracts across industries, it has changed our ability to combine collaboration with the contract. The contract keeps teams in alignment with the original vision and core business value of what is being built. If the vision changes continued communication with the customer means the contract is a living agreement that can adapt to change.

Read the next post in the series, “Rethinking the Agile Manifesto: Looking to the Future.” In the meantime, find me on Twitter or share your thoughts on the Manifesto in the comments below and download my eBook, “A Modern Take on the Agile Manifesto.”